Marin Taliban fighter's attorneys to ask Bush for release

Lawyers for former Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh announced today in San Francisco that they are filing a renewed commutation petition asking President Bush to release the Marin County man from his 20-year sentence.

The renewed commutation request is the fourth submitted to Bush on behalf of Lindh, 27, who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and pleaded guilty to serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons while doing so.

But it is the first that asks for Lindh's release now rather than a reduction in his sentence, according to James Brosnahan, one of his attorneys.

Brosnahan said today, “He has served six years. Justice and fairness require that John's 20-year sentence be commuted.”

The attorney said he has never received a response to the previous filings. Commutation petitions are reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department's pardon attorney, who then forwards a recommendation to the president.

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said Lindh's original petition from 2004 “is pending” and said he could not comment further.

Lindh was the first person to be accused of terrorism-related charges in a U.S. court following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A convert to Islam, he had joined the Taliban army in its fight against the Afghan Northern Alliance at age 20 in the summer of 2001. He was captured by the alliance in late November and turned over to the U.S. military on Dec. 1, 2001.

Lindh was originally accused of 10 counts including aiding terrorist groups but in a plea bargain pleaded guilty in a federal court in Virginia in 2002 to the lesser charges of serving the Taliban as a foot soldier and carrying a rifle and two grenades while doing so. He received the 20-sentence under the agreement.

At the time, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called the conviction “an important victory in America's war on terrorism” and said Lindh “allied himself with terrorists who reject our values of freedom and democracy.”

Brosnahan and Lindh's parents said today that Lindh was not convicted of any terrorism charges and that he had sought only to aid in a pre-9/11 civil war and never intended to or did fight Americans.

Lindh's mother, Marilyn Walker of Fairfax, said, “John had no involvement whatsoever with terrorism or criminal activity. He never fought against the United States.”

Brosnahan said there is a “vast disparity” between Lindh's sentence and the treatment of two other Taliban fighters, Yaser Hamdi and David Hicks, who were also captured in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Hamdi, a former American citizen whose challenge to his detention went to the U.S. Supreme Court, was released after three years in custody without a trial and allowed to move to Saudi Arabia.

Hicks, an Australian citizen, pleaded guilty before a U.S. military tribunal this year to providing material support to terrorism and will be released in Australia on Dec. 30 after about six years in custody, Brosnahan said.

The attorney said Lindh was moved in late September from a maximum-security prison in Colorado to a medium security prison whose location Brosnahan declined to disclose. Lindh is not permitted to communicate with the media but is allowed visits from his lawyers and family members, Brosnahan said.

In contrast to a pardon, which erases a conviction, a commutation leaves a conviction in place but reduces the penalty.

Lindh's attorneys filed the original commutation petition in September 2004 and previously renewed it in 2005 and in April of this year, shortly after Hicks was sentenced by the American military tribunal and allowed to complete his prison time in Australia.

Brosnahan said the attorneys are submitting the new filing because Hicks will be freed this month and because the holiday period is traditionally a time when presidents consider pardon and commutation requests.

He said they planto continue renewing the petition.

“We don't intend to have John forgotten. We think this president or some other president will grant this commutation,” he said.

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